Landmines were among the favorite weapons of destruction during World War I and World War II, causing extensive damage to vehicles and suffering to the human victims. Fortunately, now, they are prohibited under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (or Mine Ban Convention). One hundred fifty countries have joined this treaty. That, however, would not remove all the existing landmines that were still left out there. According to Minesweepers, “It is estimated that there are 110 million land mines in the ground right now.” With that, it’s not entirely impossible that you could find yourself in a minefield someplace in Europe, Asia or Africa. What are you going to do to make sure you leave in one piece in the event you were walking through a field and encountered a visible landmine partially unburied?

Landmine explosion, 2009. Photo: AusAID/Department of Foreign Affairs and TradeCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You may think it’s impossible but it isn’t. In 2004, two airmen found themselves stuck in the middle of a minefield. As per the report, “The airmen relied on their training to keep a bad situation from getting worse as they waited, stranded in a minefield on the other side of the base perimeter wire. In France, they have special de-mining teams that unearth about 20 tons a year of buried mines, explosives, and artillery shells left over from both world wars.

Do Not Move

If you did encounter a landmine partially unburied, do not attempt to run away. Your best bet is to assume that you are in a minefield with ordnance that could still be active.  You can’t outrun an explosion, your chances of being hit by the shrapnels are close to 100%. The Bouncing Betty, for instance, only has a half a second delay, just enough to make sure that it propels up its victim’s torso level before it explodes and release its 360 steel balls, short steel rods, or scrap metal pieces that spray horizontally at a very high speed. While it could be tempting to just run for your life, don’t do it. A typical minefield will have mines laid about two yards apart in staggered rows. An area two-hundred yards wide and one-hundred yards deep might contain as many as one-hundred landmines. 

Call for Help

Former Khmer Rouge Soldier Aki-Ra has dedicated his life to ridding his country of landmines. Rodney Evans/AusAIDCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s great if you have comrades with you who hopefully are outside the minefield. You could just stay where you are while you scream for help from them. If not, then you could, of course, call for help over the radio or phone, although the transmission signal could trigger remote-operated mines. Whichever help it is, it’s essential to avoid unnecessary movements. Once, a soldier tried to catch a water bottle thrown at him and ended up stepping on a mine. It destroyed the lower part of his leg. So don’t do it. Help would not arrive quickly sometimes, but you have to be patient for your dear life.

Trace Back Your Steps

How did you get there? Try to look for your footprints or previous people’s footprints. You could also check for tire marks since that indicates those spots do not likely have the mines. Otherwise, other soldiers or vehicles that had already passed by could’ve triggered them. Be mindful, though, that an inch’s difference could trigger these explosives, so you have to be extremely careful on your way out. Also, it is advised that you only opt to do this if you are alone without any expectation of help coming.  Otherwise, wait for assistance.

Look For the Signs

Clearing landmines.

Not shooting stars or anything like that but something that could help you safely get out. Try to look for markers painted in red or white, which may be signs that say “mines” to indicate the start or end of the minefield. As mentioned above, try to recall your way or steps when you entered and trace it back as closely as possible. 

Finally, you can exit the old-fashioned way, crawling on your belly and probing in front of you with a stick or knife.  Push the stick or knife into the ground slowly at a forty-five-degree angle about six inches into the dirt.  You need to do this in an area about three feet wide in front of you. If you encounter anything that feels solid, withdraw the probe and try to gently dig out some of the soil to see if it is another mine or a root or rock. Later on, that excavation can be used by an EOD team to remove the mine.  Give anything suspicious a wide berth.

Be patient and methodical, don’t rush.  As long as you don’t actually step directly on the mine’s trigger mechanism, it won’t blow you to smithereens and by being prone, you disperse your body weight quite a bit. If you are trying to make your way back to a road or footpath, pay closer attention as you get closer to it.  Combat Engineers often placed mines just off the roads knowing that troops would walk off to the sides to allow vehicle traffic to pass.

Prevention is better than cure. It’s still best to know the telltale signs of a minefield, so you don’t find yourself stuck in the middle of one.

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